In Defence of Culture, Autonomy and Identity: Martial Arts as Protest in the Twentieth Century and Beyond

Lone Boxer

Those who follow me on Twitter would have noticed a lot of my Tweets lately have been about “mysticism” in Martial Arts. I had been writing my final essay for this semester and now it’s done – I’ve really finished Uni for the year. I ended up calling my paper “In Defence of Culture, Autonomy and Identity: Martial Arts as Protest in the Twentieth Century and Beyond.” In the end, what it came to represent to me was the articulation of over fifteen years of Rage that had previously only ever found expression through physical means.

It’s funny that my “Martial Arts” and the ethnic protest that they represented were always a source of shame and bemusement to certain people in my life. I’m sure they’re happy now that I’m doing something “respectable” at University. The irony is that my studies are motivated by exactly the same righteous anger (at being denied a culture of my own while being marginalised by the one in which I live) that initially motivated me to want to learn how to kill people with my bare hands. (Let’s be honest; that angry sixteen year old who walked into a Pradahl Serey Kun Khmai gym and said “I want to learn how to fight” wasn’t interested in spiritual transcendence or individualistic self-improvement).

I never did put hands on those people who were on my teenage hit-list (there was a list) and I have not become anywhere near as accomplished a fighter or “Martial Artist” as I had hoped to be by now. But in the process of writing this essay, I realised that my years of training have been worth something, if only because they have made me a small part of a phenomenon that is much bigger and more significant than myself.

Nothing that I’ve suggested is new: there is a lot that has been written on this subject, and there is room to be far more comprehensive. For example, I was unable to go into s discussion of the Blacksploitation film genre, or to analyse the socio-political implications of Women’s MMA. But I hope that you get some enjoyment or insight out of what I was able to discuss. Comments are very welcome.

In Defence of Culture, Autonomy and Identity: Martial Arts as Protest in the Twentieth Century and Beyond


“When, three decades ago, Kung Fu films were popular (Bruce Lee, etc.), was it not clear that we were dealing with a genuine working class ideology of youngsters whose only means of success was the disciplinary training of their only possession, their bodies? Spontaneity and the ‘let it go’ attitude of indulging in excessive freedoms belong to those who have the means to afford it – those who have nothing have only their discipline.”

            Slavoj Zizek (cited in Bowman, 2009, pp. 15.)

To what do the Martial Arts owe their enduring popularity?

Some may suggest that the reasons are “instrumental” – that people wish to know how to defend themselves. Yet, although this reason is bandied about in marketing campaigns and the media, we live in an age where hand-to-hand combat has been replaced by police protection, handguns and long-range ballistics. Long after the original purpose of martial arts – to kill and maim – has largely been made redundant, Martial Arts – as practice, as spectacle, as cultural phenomenon – remain popular.

Some have suggested that the so-called “Mystical Origins” of the martial arts explain their popularity. But when we examine this concept, it begins to fall apart very quickly.

What is a “Martial Art”? Professor of Political Science and regular contributor to academic publications on American society and popular culture, Max J. Skidmore, echoes a common idea when he describes Martial Arts as “Oriental” and having “their roots in Zen Buddhism” (Skidmore, 1991, pp. 130.), while describing boxing and wrestling as “sports” which generate “normal interest” (Skidmore, 1991, pp. 129.). It is unclear whence he derives this definition, but it is common, albeit loaded with contradiction.

The Mystical Origin Story is a construction, and in the twentieth century alone we can find many different reasons for it. Biomedical physician and student of martial arts and Traditional Chinese Medicine, Anthony L. Schmieg, devotes an entire chapter of his book, “Watching Your Back: Chinese Martial Arts and Traditional Medicine” to debunking some of the mythology surrounding Chinese Martial Arts. According to Schmieg, some of the factors contributing to the mystification of Chinese Martial Arts are: the misinterpretation of esoteric language; the proliferation of folk stories; scholarly misunderstanding of Daoist analogies; the use of literary superlatives; and the decreased need to maim and kill enemies, giving rise to a preoccupation with the “spiritual” (Schmieg, AL, 2004.).

So we cannot seriously claim that Martial Arts have “Mystical Origins”, much less use these “origins” to explain the appeal of the practice and spectacle of Martial Arts.

By exploring the exchange of Martial Arts between “East” (especially Japan, China and Hong Kong) and “West” (particularly Great Britain and her former or current colonies, and the United States) we can identify themes which have little to do with “Mystical Origins”. As methods of warfare and existing power structures changed, through the forces of Western Imperialism, Colonialism, Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights movement, socialism, and the Vietnam War, Martial Arts are used less as physical defence, and more as social and cultural self-defence. In both “Eastern” and “Western” contexts, Martial Arts, and those individuals who represented them, have been used by oppressed and dominated peoples to defend, reclaim and assert their identity, culture, dignity, masculinity, autonomy and power in the face of patriarchal, racial, political and colonial oppression.


“Standing on the street corner, eighteen good men,

Burning the foreign buildings, the Red Lanterns Shining.

Burning these buildings is not a big deal,

But until the foreign devils are all driven off, our efforts will not cease.

The women do not comb their hair.

They cut off the foreigners’ heads.

The women do not bind their feet.

They kill all the foreigners, laughing as they go.”

            From “Stories of the Boxers” (cited in Kazuko, 1989, pp. 50 – 51.)

The Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1900 involved the collaboration of male and female Martial Artists – the Boxers and Red Lanterns respectively – whose goal was to expel Western – particularly British – influence from China. A particular point of contention was the activity of Christian evangelists and converts (Spence, 1981, pp. 27.).

In a process perhaps of reactionary self-Orientalisation, the Boxers and Red Lanterns cultivated an image of themselves as Martial Artists who possessed magical powers. A Red Lantern known as “Azure Cloud”, reputed to be skilled not only in Martial Arts but acrobatics, was described by her contemporaries as being able to “leap over ten feet in the air” (Kazuko, 1989, pp. 52.) – a literary superlative which may have been meant to describe her plyometric ability, but which no doubt contributed to the proliferation of the Red Lanterns’ “mystical” image.

These claims of “mystical” powers must be viewed in the context of resistance to Western Imperialism. The “magic” of the Chinese Boxer and Red Lantern stands in direct opposition to the unwelcome influence of the West’s Christianity. The popularity of the Boxer/Red Lantern movement was due to a sense of discontent and injustice amongst impoverished and politically powerless demographics (Kazuko, 1989.).

This highlights an important theme: that of the Mystical Origin Story as a weapon for asserting cultural identity. We will see this again when we examine the development and evolution of Taijiquan, but it is important to remember that these Mystical Origin Stories were used to meet the needs of the people at the time in reclaiming a lost or threatened sense of cultural identity in the face of a threatening power.




The aftermath of the ill-fated Boxer Rebellion, along with the successful example of Japan’s Meiji reforms, led the new Chinese government after the 1911 revolution to utilise standardised forms of Chinese Martial Arts, including Taijiquan, to instil health and strength in the construction of the new nation’s character (Ryan, 2008, pp. 531.).

Taijiquan is considered by many to be a Martial Art with “Mystical Origins.” Its most well-known Mystical Origin Story is that it was transmitted by the immortal Zheng Sanfeng (Wile, 2007.).

Although there are some today who fervently defend the veracity of the Zheng Sanfeng origin story, scrutiny reveals it to have arisen as part of a common practice in the late Qing dynasty and the early republican years of claiming Mystical Origins to demonstrate the authenticity of one’s lineage. This practice was not exclusive to the Martial Arts. Daoist principles were added to discussions of Taijiquan in an attempt to engage intellectuals while overcoming the “Sick Man of Asia” stereotype (emulating the success Japanese Meiji reforms in resurrecting its samurai culture) (Wile, 2007, pp. 21.). It is important to note that although the “exotic” language of Daoist principles takes on a “mystical” quality when discussed in a modern Western context (Schmieg, 2004, pp. 158.), Daoism, along with Confucianism and Buddhism, represents a school of philosophical thought and literary analogy in Chinese society which has been applied to everything from herbalism to politics (Paracka Jr., 2012.).

When we look past the apparent exoticism of Daoist imagery, we see once again an effort to defend cultural identity in the face of foreign threat. An analysis of the evolution of Taijiquan’s origin story over the twentieth century is consistent with the theme of using this Martial Art in the defence and construction of national identity and culture.

The Zheng Sanfeng origin story was denounced by the Maoist government post-1949 for its failure to credit the People, but later revived in a reaction against scientific socialism in an attempt to recover a more spiritual sense of Chinese identity. The dispute around the mystification and origins of Taijiquan must therefore be seen as intrinstically linked to the evolution of Chinese cultural identity (Wile, 2007, pp. 33 – 35.). Rather than (fabricated) “Mystical Origins” being the reason for this Martial Art’s popularity, we see the Mystical Origin Story used – as it was by the Boxers and Red Lanterns – to assert a cultural identity, this time in the face of heavy-handed socialist secularism, by attaching spiritual significance to an already-prolific practice.


“It would not take the average man very long to guess that a good boxer would make the best judo wrestler look like 20 cents worth of dog meat.”

            The Los Angeles Times, 26th December, 1909 (cited in Hlinak, 2009, pp. 13.)

The journey of Judo and Jiu Jitsu to the West reveals a lot about the place that Martial Arts occupied in the twentieth century as a marker of personal power and cultural identity.

Japan during the Meiji reform period of 1868 – 1912 was proactive about avoiding the political and cultural humiliation suffered by China in the face of Western incursion. Her Martial Arts were identified as a cultural export and a marker of national identity. The Japanese government advocated the promotion of Jiu Jitsu and the new hybrid style Judo not only within Japan, but to the “West”. Judo founder Jigaro Kano travelled to Europe and America in 1889. There he promoted Judo and Jiu Jitsu as physical practices which inculcated moral values such as (the Japanese warrior’s) ‘Bushido’ spirit. Judo and Jiu Jitsu were accepted in the West, particularly in Britain, not due to any “Mystical Origins” (construction of which was decisively absent from their promotion both in Japan and the West), but due to the compatibility of Bushido with Victorian values of masculinity, health, morality and sportsmanship (Looser, 2011, pp. 4 – 5.).

Some of the earliest encounters which American popular culture had with Judo and Jiu Jitsu were through popular travelling vaudeville shows in the mid-west at the dawn of the twentieth century. Traditionally featuring strongmen, acrobatics and wrestling, changes in migration patterns and an increasing Japanese presence in America meant that these shows began featuring “Judo vs wrestling” matches (Hlinak, 2009, pp. 9.).

The nationalistic connotations of “Judo vs wrestling” gave working-class audiences an arena in which to express racist attitudes. A journalist for the Oakland Tribune reported proudly in the 2nd April edition of 1909 how he and the other “white people” in attendance at such a match “shouted for the white man and did all we could to make him win, but the Japs out-numbered us and they outdid us in the matter of enthusiasm” (cited in Hlinak, 2009, pp. 15.). Colonial tropes and racial ideology were used to narrate the events in the media of the day: White-American wrestlers were imbued with the qualities which represented the best of White masculinity – strength, aggression and spontaneity; while reporters took the opportunity to emphasise the effeminate qualities which White America attached to the Asian male (Pennycook, 1998, pp. 61 – 63., Kang, 1997) – small stature, physical weakness and politeness – while drawing attention to the foreign aspects of Judo, such as the kimono and the practice of bowing to one’s opponent, to re-iterate the stereotype of the “convention-bound Jap” (Hlinak, 2009, pp. 16.). This dynamic reveals how both wrestling (although not meeting Skidmore’s inconclusive but widely applied definition of a “Martial Art”) and Judo/Jiu Jitsu were used to represent the cultures of the White-American pioneer and the Japanese-American migrant respectively. This occurred independently of any “Mystical Origins” (which, we must remember, were not part of Judo or Jiu Jitsu’s role in the Meiji reforms in Japan nor their export to the West.)

The newspapers’ descriptions of the ethnically-Japanese Judo and Jiu Jitsu fighters’ ability to defeat larger opponents vacillated between admiration, fear and ridicule. It is in White America’s account of Judo/Jiu Jitsu, rather than in their Japanese origins, that “mystical” themes emerged. The Los Angeles Times reported on 4th September 1904 that Judokas possessed the knowledge of “death points” and “vital touches”, giving them the power to cause “instant death” (cited in Hlinak, 2009, pp. 14.). The same newspaper on 3rd April 1919 imbues a certain judoka with the ability to win via “a certain way of looking at an opponent… some of his great victories have been won by mental grapevine” (cited in Hlinak, 2009, pp. 14.).

In this interaction in the arena of entertainment and popular culture of the early twentieth century, both Judo/Jiu Jitsu and wrestling were used to promote racial, cultural and nationalistic sentiments. The Mystical Origin Story was conceived through a combination of xenophobia and racial and colonial ideology in a Western context. Far from being a reason for the popularity of Martial Arts, the Mystical Origin Story in this case was the product of a combination of racial fear and admiration of the Exotic and sometimes Threatening Other.


“So clever is the lady that when the tough with pistol, knife

And bludgeon tries to rough her up and mayhap take her life,

Like lightning-flash she meets him and quickly stays his hand,

By tumbling him hard earthwards – I tell you it is grand –

And proves to me and all here what women folk can do

When attacked, if they but study Miss Le Mar at Ju Jitsu.”

            ‘Gardiner and Le Mar: Star turn at Wonderland Exhibition’, Auckland Truth, 21st February 1914, pp. 6 (cited in Looser, 2011, pp. 13 – 14.)

The potential to defeat stronger opponents with Judo and Jiu Jitsu gained the attention of a demographic which was oppressed by White male-dominated social structures – women. During the early 1900s when the women’s suffrage movement was in full force in Britain, Judo and Jiu Jitsu became the first combat-styles officially taught to women (Looser, 2011, pp. 5.).

The association between feminism and Judo/Jiu Jitsu was strong.

Edith Garrud (1872 – 1971), student of Sadakazu Uyenishi (one of the first Jiu Jitsu practitioners to teach in the West), established the Suffragette’s Self-Defence Club, training members of the militant feminist Women’s Social and Political Union in preparation for the violent protests in which they were often involved (Looser, 2012, pp. 9.).

Female Judo and Jiu Jitsu practitioners furthered their political aims by gaining the unprecedented ability to protect themselves, and by transmitting this ability from woman-to-woman through teaching and training. However they also employed Martial Arts as entertainment and spectacle. (In fact, given the level of newspaper coverage which the “Jiu Jitsu Suffragettes”, as they came to be known, attracted through their use of Martial Arts, even their pragmatic use of Jiu Jitsu for self-defence can be regarded as a kind of political performance) (Looser, 2011, pp. 9.).

The performances, demonstrations and examples of prominent female Martial Artists such as vaudeville star Florence Le Mar and Jiu Jitsu teacher Fude Yamishita assumed the form of activism, as Martial Arts were shown to enable smaller, “weaker” women to defend themselves against men not only on the street but in the home (Looser, 2011.). This is a clear example of how Martial Arts have been used by oppressed demographics to facilitate empowerment and change – in this instance to bring about, in Le Mar’s words, “ ‘a race of self-reliant womanhood.’ ” (Le Mar, Life and adventures, cited in Looser, 2011, pp. 15.).

There is no reference to any Mystical Origin Story in this interaction of feminism and Martial Arts. Although there are certainly instrumental reasons for the use of Martial Arts as self-defence by the “Jiu Jitsu Suffragettes” in their encounters with a hostile police presence, the phenomenon of the female Martial Artist as entertainer and spectacle highlights the power that the mere demonstration of physical ability has to liberate the minds of oppressed peoples. The effectiveness of Martial Arts as performance and entertainment would increase exponentially with the advent new media, such as film and television.


Eddie Ng vs Arnaud Lepont

“The reason why I started doing Martial Arts was because being a Chinese kid growing up in the UK, I was a minority and I experienced a lot of bullying and racism growing up. It’s not just like name-calling, but they would also like hit and stuff. And, it wasn’t so much of the violence that got me started. I started to think that wouldn’t it be so much easier if I was white, you know, growing up in the UK? I also started having a little bit of resentment towards my parents, and like asked myself why do I have to be Chinese? I then saw a Bruce Lee movie, and he’ll be like fighting and beating 10 people easily. I was very entertained and drawn to that. And also, the people in my school actually felt the same about Bruce Lee and they were like ‘whoa, he can beat ten people without getting touched!’ But Bruce Lee was Chinese so I thought how come this guy is Chinese and everyone has so much respect for him? But for me, why are they being so racist? The same people who were racist towards me – how come they loved Bruce Lee? And it wasn’t because he was Chinese and it wasn’t because of where he’s from or anything like that but rather the fact that he was an incredible martial artist and what he can do on the street. So that got me to think hm… maybe if I start martial arts, people will stop bullying me and stop being racist towards me.”

            Eddie Ng (cited in John, 2013.)

No discussion of the popularity of martial arts would be complete without a discussion of Bruce Lee, perhaps the most iconic “face” of Martial Arts in the Western imagination today.

Bruce Lee rose to fame in the 1970’s, a highly transitional period of American history. The humiliation of America’s defeat in Vietnam; the growing discontent of American youth with traditional (White) American values; the rallying calls of Black Nationalism and the Civil Rights movements; the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luthor King Jr and John F. Kennedy – all of these factors primed America for the phenomenon that was Bruce Lee to make its mark on popular culture (Shu, 1996, pp. 52.).

The “kung fu genre” of cinema was already popular in Hong Kong at the time. However, as an ethnic Chinese living in the West, Lee brought a deliberate and specific agenda to his films. Lee challenged the Western stereotype of the emasculated Asian Male through his depiction of highly-physical, near-invincible Martial Artists and his deliberate avoidance of the super-natural or “mystical” themes common in Hong Kong cinema at the time (Shu, 1996.).

Dr Paul Bowman, Director of the Race, Representation and Cultural Politics Research Group at Cardiff University, describes Bruce Lee as an “Event” (Bowman, 2011, pp. 60.). Ubiquitous with Martial Arts, Lee’s influence not only popularised his own films (in an era when Hollywood shunned the use of Asian men in lead roles) but revolutionised action cinema and popular culture in the West. After the Event of Bruce Lee, we find countless references to him and to Martial Arts, with which his image is inextricably linked. Bowman lists similitudes in films as disparate as Toy Story III (2010), Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) and Vol. 2 (2004), The Matrix Trilogy (1999, 2003, 2003), the Bourne Trilogy (2002, 2004, 2007) (Bowman, 2011, pp. 1 – 6) and Batman Begins (2005) and Mission Impossible 3 (2006) (Bowman, 2011, pp. 185 – 187). Notably, all of these imitations, derivatives or tributes centre around Lee’s Martial Arts. Even the classic American DC Comics hero Batman has his origin story amended to include Martial Arts training in “the East” which included Karate, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, and Ninjutsu (Grant, 1994), rather than the generic hand-to-hand combat skills with which he had originally been endowed in 1939 (Finger, 1939).

However, we cannot conclude that the booming visibility and resultant popularity of Martial Arts (via the Event of Bruce Lee in the highly-transitional post-Vietnam period) had anything to do with a Mystical Origin story, since Lee deliberately avoided any reference to this stereotype in his films. What, then, made Bruce Lee and Martial Arts, with which his image was synonymous, so popular with consumers and Martial Arts adherents alike?

The answer to this question can be found in who was inspired and mobilised by the Event of Bruce Lee.


Ron Van Clief

“ ‘Half the contestants and more than half the audience are black or Hispanic: karate is Third World anger release.’ ”

            Newspaper report of the All American Open Karate Competition (cited in Bowman, 2013, pp. 51.)

Bruce Lee’s brazen depictions of hard-bodied Asian-American masculinity and his anti-colonial sentiments appealed strongly not only to his fellow Asian-Americans, but to other oppressed communities in the West, such as African-Americans (Kim, 2004). Lee came to represent not only the Angry Asian Man, but the Protestant Ethnic – the angry Person of Colour anywhere within the traditional White fabric of American society. Professor Keiko Nitta of Rikkyo University wrote that “one never has any difficulty in finding plenty of testimonies about ethnic empowerment brought about by the popular cultural figure of Bruce Lee.” (cited in Bowman, 2011, pp. 130.).

Lee was not the only famous Martial Arts performer to catalyse this sort of ethnic empowerment.

Although growing up in Hong Kong and listing (White American) Buster Keaton among his artistic influences, actor, director, and Martial Arts entertainer Jackie Chan has spoken clearly about challenging White ideologies of masculinity and race.

Unlike Lee, Chan seems content to perpetuate the stereotype of the soft-bodied Asian male by depicting variations of a character “who runs away from trouble, gets hurt easily in escape, and wins the fight purely by luck” (Shu, 1996, pp. 57.) Also unlike Lee, he allows the audience to peer behind the curtain. His famed out-takes – failed stunts and accidents in which he quite literally comes close to losing life and limb – achieve more than entertainment of the audience throughout the end credits. “In American movie now,” Chan comments, in what can be read as a very direct comment on issues of race, “walking is special effect, talking is special effect, everything is special effect. And American heroes never scared. Put a gun to their head, they say ‘Shoot me, shoot me.’ But I’m not a superhero, I’m a real human being… Everyone can be a superman, but nobody can be Jackie Chan. My body is my special effects.” (cited in Shu, 1996, pp. 57.). As Lee rejected supernatural or mystical themes in his films as possible detractors of the physical expression of his masculinity, Chan rejects the superhuman powers of special effects, and transforms his off-screen life into a political performance which challenges stereotypes of White masculinity and the emasculated Asian male.

Although Lee and Chan take different approaches, they both demonstrate how Martial Arts as physical training, spectacle and cultural export command such attention in popular culture due to their implications to disempowered or dominated segments of society. In this case, this effect is most powerful when the constructed Mystical Origin story of Martial Arts – whether in the context of historical myth, plot-device or technological enhancement – is notably absent. Florence Le Mar, Fude Yamashita, Edith Garrud and the Jiu Jitsu suffragettes utilized Martial Arts as political performance to change the way that women saw their bodies and potential abilities (Looser, 2011); Lee and Chan demonstrate the profound effect of Martial Arts as political performance in challenging the ideology of White racism and liberating the mind of the Person of Colour from internalized racism.


“Today, amidst China’s rise in the global order, Chinese films have grown in popularity, and ‘soft power’ has also entered China’s bureaucratic speeches as the country seeks to reassure others of its ‘peaceful rise’… Chinese martial arts films are indeed valuable soft power resources, and are a promising way through which China can continue its outreach in Asia.”

            Shimin, 2013

This migration of martial arts from East to West has not been a one-way exchange, and in fact has taken on the form of an exchange between East and West.

A statue of Bruce Lee – in his characteristic Jeet Kune Do fighting-stance, adapted from Western fencing (Bowman, 2011, pp. 67) – stands on Hong Kong’s Avenue of the Stars (Bowman, 2011, pp. 17), despite the fact the Lee lived and worked in the United States. The Chinese government re-opened the Shaolin Temple, transforming it into an opportunity to capitalize on a lucrative tourist market (Bowman, 2011, pp. 6.). In both examples, symbols which gained power as icons of resistance to racism in the West have been (re-)adopted as cultural markers in the “East.” It is neither a Mystical Origin Story nor the superhuman ability of the Little Yellow Man which has inspired this, but the power of the Martial Arts to allow Asians and other “Protestant Ethnics” to challenge White racial ideology which by asserting their cultural identity with pride and autonomy.

A fitting validation of this concept can be seen in the Chinese government’s use of its film industry as part of its “soft power” campaign. The Chinese government has been described as “eager to use Chinese films (in general) as a tool to spread China’s soft power” (Shimin, 2013, pp. 12.). However, a recent study involving audiences in Singapore revealed a particular correlation between “a positive reception towards Chinese martial arts films and a positive perception of China… viewers see Chinese martial arts films as influential in shaping the way they distinguish traditional Chinese culture (one of China’s soft power resources); close to three quarters of the respondents and most of the non-Chinese respondents at least agreed that Chinese martial arts films make the traditional Chinese culture attractive.” (Shimin, 2013, pp. 17.).

And so we conclude, where we began, in China: only instead of militant Boxers and Red Lanterns using their Martial Arts to expel foreign devils, the Chinese government benefits from the positive associations that ethnic Chinese and non-ethnic Chinese alike have towards depictions of Martial Arts, in their campaign to combat Western soft power through the global (soft) battle-ground of film.


When we view the interaction of East and West through the medium of Martial Arts, we see that the “Mystical Origin” story, rather than being the reason for the popularity of Martial Arts either amongst practitioners or consumers, is just one tool among many which is used for the assertion of national identity, cultural identity, women’s rights, Asian masculinity, and even Individualistic empowerment and autonomy. The transmission and evolution across continents and media of Martial Arts over the course of the twentieth century shows that Martial Arts are popular among participants and consumers as a vehicle through which “those who have nothing” can assert themselves in the face of oppressive social forces. Rather than functioning exclusively as an instrumental tool for physical defense, Martial Arts are most powerful as a tool for the defense of dignity and identity in a post-colonial context. To claim that Martial Arts are popular because of their constructed “Mystical Origins” is to reduce this powerful practice to nothing more than a piece of Chinoiserie brought home by returning colonists, which willfully ignores the powerful medium for protest that the Martial Arts have been over the course of the twentieth century for colonized, dominated and oppressed people and peoples in both “Western” and “Eastern” contexts.




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